Fading Prodigies of JP

Prodigies of JP are fading from limelight and their successors have taken over, however, these leaders have changed dynamics of Indian polity from ‘leader centric’ to ‘people centric’

By Asit Manohar

The mid-1970s can be classified in the political history of India for various reasons: economic doom, decay in political standards caused by political and ministerial misconduct, electoral malpractice, corruption, leader centric cult politics of the Congress Party and, of course, the imposition of the Emergency on June 26, 1975. Political analysts have spared no effort to explain why the Emergency happened and why India’s democracy lent itself to the kind of distortions which were seen in 1975-77. But it is also time that we examined what happened to the movement led by Jayaprakash Narayan and why it has not left any lasting legacy in the form of alternative politics, alternative leadership styles or alternative ideologies. If it has left any legacy, it is perhaps that of populism found in the rhetoric of Lalu Prasad Yadav.

Yet, arguably, the movement represented one of the most significant moments in India’s political life after Independence. As JP drew on the enormous discontent prevalent in the country to force a movement, he came to represent the voice of opposition in an era when official opposition had all but disappeared. The split in the Congress and the exit of the Congress (O) meant that critical discussions within the party, which had been celebrated by Rajni Kothari as distinctive of the Congress system in the 1960s, were to become a thing of the past. The massive victory of the Congress in the 1971 elections — it won 352 seats and the largest Opposition party just 25 seats — meant that opposition both within and without the party disappeared. This led to the disastrous closing in of power structures, consolidation of the cult of the leader, sycophancy, genuflection and consequent intolerance of criticism. But the absence of official channels for voicing discontent does not mean that it will disappear. It bottles up to explode at crucial points of time, giving rise to extra-parliamentary forms of agitation.

JP Movement was mainly supported by student leaders, most notable among them, Lalu Prasad Yadav, Sharad Yadavand Nitish Kumar as well as popular agrarian leaders like Chaudhary Charan Singh, which meant both the youth and the farmers were extremely unhappy with the then regime of Indira Gandhi. The movement mainly got traction in northern parts of India initially, especially in UP, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Delhi. Later on, it trickled down in other states which made it a mass movement as the entire opposition got under one umbrella, which was given ideological leadership by JP. Those who born after the JP Movement, can found its replica in Anna Movement when Gandhian Anna Hazare, who had no mass support but a strong credentials to cash on by the then crusaders against corruption along with the RSS and some fringe movement leaders.Just as the JP Movement faded immediately after the formation of Janata Government in New Delhi, Anna Movement too failed immediately after Arvind Kejriwal jumped into the political ship. However, there is one difference between JP and Anna Movement. Anna advised his prodigies not to enter politics while JP strongly recommended the youth leaders like Janeshwar Mishra, Ram Sunder Das, Lalu Yadav, Sharad Yadav, Nitish Kumar, Sushil Kumar Modi, Saryu Rai to enter politics and change the dynamics of the Indian politics. Politics at the time had become ‘leader centric’ as majority of national policy  decisions were taken by either Indira Gandhi or by her son Sanjay Gandhi.

The new breed of politicians who emergedout of the JP Movement seem to be losing their sheen as the BJP continues to decimate majority of them.The decimation is complete to the extent that the Congress Party, a national party of historic importance,failed to attain  the required numbers to claim even the post of leader of the opposition in the Parliament. But, this doesn’t imply that JP’s legacy too is fading like his prodigies.


Though JP didn’t live long after the movement and died on October 8, 1979 — just few months after the fall of Janata Government led by Morarji Desai—he left behind a breed of leaders who changed the political dynamics by forcingthe then leaders in power to become ‘people centric.’ Leaders from the various peasant movements, student movement, Dalit and some other localized movements started to surface on the political platform. This change led to emergence of leader like Mayawati, who strongly opposed Rajnarayan for using ‘Harijan’ word for the SCs and STs citing, “If Dalits are Harijan, what about others? Are they Durjans?” The Dalit girl,aprodigy of Kanshi Ram, stunned the leaders present in Constitution Club in 1977, when she reprimanded Rajnarayan with above notion.She forced the then political hierarchy to take  her statement asdeclaration of a strong Dalit leader in the making, which she did prove, with the aid of her Guru Kanshi Ram,by writing the success story of her political party Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). Post 1977, lip service to Dalits like ‘empowerment of Dalit’ through induction of Dalit faces into the cabinet ceasedbeing enough. They started to demand representation as per their proportional population.. This led to increase in number of Dalit leaders being allocated party tickets across party lines. .

After continuation of this process for few years, the new breed of Dalit leaders began raising the issue of  of reservation quota. They had the courage to raise such issue because they enjoyed support of their voters. As a result, VP Singh had to implement ‘Mandal Commission’ recommendations, in addition, helping some more castes that were inducted into the Other Backward Caste (OBC) category which were  less advantaged than the general category but better off SCs and STs. The expectation was that such reservation will aid the intended beneficiary.Though, public opinion is divided over the achievement of its goal, but one thing is for sure that it helped Dalit representation increase further in various assemblies as well as the Parliament. If leaders like Mayawati, Lalu Prasad Yadav and Nitish Kumar succeeded in becoming the Chief Ministers and could nurture the ambition of becoming Prime Minister of India, Mandal Commission had a major role in it. This change was result of a shift in Indian politics from cult to issue based politics.


After the JP Movement, leaders like Lalu Prasad Yadav, Nitish Kumar, Chaudhary Devi Lal, Mulayam Singh Yadav etc., emerged as strong forces in their respective states, forcing national parties to pay heed to their demands and adapt in their style of governance. These leaders were grass root leaders and were well acquainted with the public aspirations. Hence, they gave proper representation to the respective cross section of the society they were representing. These leaders made people aware of the value their votes possessed. As a result, good number of leaders from the OBC category emerged. Now, politics was no longer a VIP area where only a cartel could walk inside. Hence, after the emergence of these leaders, suddenly voter turnout started to rise. Now, voting was not restricted to the elites who would decide who will vote in whose favour. There was a change in the flow of current as now the suppressed started to sense which group of leaderswere more  suitable for their upliftment. These leaders uprooted Congress Party to an extent where the grand old party needed their support to take on the rise of BJP. After nearly 40 years of JP Movement, even today Congress party is dependent upon the leaders like Lalu Prasad Yadav, Mulayam or his son Akhilesh Yadav to contain BJP in near 120 Lok Sabha seats.

‘The BJP too rose  in Hindi heartland at the expense of the Congress Party as it was able to implement of JP’s idea at a faster rate with the help of RSS’s expansive grassroots network. So, if you look at current political scenario, majority of the regional satraps like Lalu, Akhilesh, Mayawati, Kejriwal or Chautalas; are fighting with the BJP directly and to keep BJP at bay, they find it easier to join hands with the Congress party,’ said NK Singh, a New Delhi-based political commentator.


Just as the Dalits had started to raise their core issues through their leaders, the economically well off too started to question the government as to why  they should be voted into power.Sensing this in 1977, Indira Gandhi led Congress was first to take advantage of this growing concern. . They began revering the well-off citizens by organizing Asian Games leading to infrastructural development. This process continued even after the assassination of Indira Gandhi. Her son Rajiv Gandhi continued the infrastructural development focusing on  Information Technology (IT) and tele-communication. This developmental work didn’t stop even when Indian polity was going througha topsy-turvy curve. After failure of both VP Singh and Chandrashekhar to provide a stable Central government, and Rajiv Gandhi getting assassinated during the mid-term poll in 1991, PV Narsimha Rao went one step ahead and helped India foray into space venture. When the western world was busy reporting about Mandal agitation and Hindu-Muslim riots that had erupted after the demolition of Babri Masjid, India successfully forged ahead with the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle(PSLV) mission. . It was this Planet Satellite Launch Vehicle program, which revolutionize Indian telecom industry. The cell phone revolution which is getting transformed  into ‘Datagiri’ after Reliance Jio launch, is a result of this PSLV launch program. Indian space mission is often the center of social media buzz and has become an integral part of each and every cross-section of the society.

Prior to JP Movement running new train was enough to catch votes. But, after the formation of Janata Government, train passengers started to seek proper facility while commuting. Today, even trains with proper facility are not enough to suffice Indian public. They want timely running of the trains.This trend is reflected by the fact that the railway minister is now available on various social media platforms and many people connect him directly. Same is the case with other means of transport. If the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is talking about the Bullet Train, affordable flights etc., it is result of the change that took place after the JP Movement. Today, our politicians know that they can’t sustain in politics if they fail to deliver services in sync with public aspiration.


During JP Movement, it had become a popular perception that majority of the politicians sitting in positions of power in the government were deep drowned in corruption. It was for the first time during JP Movement that corruptionbecome akey issue and in fact one thatthe incumbent Indira Gandhi government failed to cope up with. As a result, majority of the Congress leaders,including Indira and Sanjay Gandhi, lost their seats in the following elections. Subsequently, around the time of every election, corruption charges would start surface.Off course, this is with the exception of 1984 Lok Sabha Polls, beingan emotional period for Indians as it took place right after the  the assassination of Indira Gandhi. In 1989, Rajiv Gandhi had to face corruption charges over ‘Bofors’, which was again raised when Sonia Gandhi entered politics in 1998. PV Narsimha Rao had to face the same charges again in 1996 while Atal Bihari Vajpayee government had to face the petrol pump and UTI scams amid chants of ‘India Signing’ adopted by the BJP in 2004.

However, it was the 2014 Lok Sabha Polls which concretely established that corruption as an issue is capable of  bringing down a Government and decimating the ruling political party. This was all thanks to Anna Movement. If political pundits are to be believed, success for Narendra Modi in 2014 was scripted by the Gandhian Anna Hazare — an apolitical person along with his prodigies who were till then known to be crusaders against corruption. Sensing the opportunity in this movement, some other localized crusaders too joined Anna’s hand and by the end of 2011, Anna Movement became an umbrella organization for majority of the localized movements against corruption. But, this process, some RSS sympathizers too joined the band wagon and on the back of those leaders, RSS succeeded in molding the public mood into BJP’s favour right after  Arvind Kejriwal formed his political party Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) much against the wishes of Anna Hazare. Actually, RSS had tried to do the same during JP Movement too. They had made a cut into the cartel around JP during the Movement that comprised some socialist leaders too. The glaring example of RSS intrusion in JP coterie was the announcement of Nanaji Deshmikh — an RSS ideologue — as a person who would take shots if JP is jailed. This announcement was made by JP himself. Similarly, during Anna Movement, Kejriwal forming the government in Delhi with the support of Congress Party and subsequently resigning within 49 days of government formation did further help to the RSS and the BJP in their pursuit of bagging the benefit of Anna Movement’s effect in 2014 Lok Sabha Polls.

Like JP, Anna too faded fast after 2014 Lok Sabha Polls but not his idea, which is being claimed by his prodigies Arvind Kejriwal, Manish Sisodiya and few more. Their presence in politics has at least forced Indian politicians to become further pro-public. Some of the government’s initiatives like Ujjwala Yojna (by UPA-2), Mudra Yojna, Jan Dhan Yojna, Make In India, Skill India, Start-up India etc., are immediate results of the Anna Movement that forced our political leaders to bring such schemes that can directly benefit the public in general. In fact, if we go by some poll observers, they are of the opinion that whether Demonetization helped India is under scanner but for public in general, it forced the elites to stand in queues with general public which in itself was cathartic for several in the service class. It was seen as a great “reverence” done by the Modi government for the general population of the country.  .


In 2014 Lok Sabha Polls, Congress along with majority of the regional satraps, especially in North India, received poll route which fell into the hands of BJP. Congress party failed to open its account in states like Delhi, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand while it could win two seats each in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. When it comes regional leaders, Arvind Kejriwal’s AAP failed to open its account in Delhi while Mayawati’s BSP registered zero even after polling third highest votes after BJP and Congress at pan India level. Mulayam Singh’s SP could win only five seats out of which two was won by Mulayam Singh himself and rest three from his family members, which includes his daughter in law Dimple Yadav. In Haryana, the Lal’s too fared badly along with the Congress party. If we go by current political scenario, Mulayam Singh Yadav has handed over his political baton into the hands of son Akhilesh Yadav completely. In fact, son Akhilesh is calling all shots in the party. Similarly, Tejashwi Yadav has taken overparty affairs of the RJD as his father Lalu Prasad Yadav has been sentenced to jail in various Fodder Scam cases. In fact, Lalu has been barred from contesting polls after conviction. Hence, his son is handling party both inside and outside tBihar Assembly. In Haryana too, Kuldeep Bishnoi — son of late Bhajan Lal — has joined Congress party after losing in 2014 Lok Sabha Polls while jailed Om Prakash Chautala has handed over the party affairs into the hands of his sons Ajay Chautala and Abhay Chautala. His grandson Dushyant Chautala is member Parliament from Hissar. So, farmer’s woes are getting represented by other parties if not by the Chaudhary Devi Lal scions.

In conclusion, its leader that fades not the ideology ideated by the leader. When JP fade away from Indian politics, his prodigies took over and continue proliferating his ideals among the public in general. Hence, fading JP prodigies should not be discarded as they are a part of a natural political process.